Research has produced fresh evidence that American-style aptitude tests can help to identify disadvantaged students who could flourish in higher education.
Dundee University's Wider Access Study Centre investigated the scholastic assessment test's effectiveness in gauging the academic potential of 74 students at its access summer school. The students sat the test before the school and in 63 per cent of cases it predicted whether they would perform above or below the class average.
Personal tutors who had dealt with the students throughout the ten-week course predicted their results on the basis of qualities such as commitment, maturity and organisational skills with a 69 per cent success rate.
Project officer Jennifer Leeder said none of the students had university entrance qualifications, but 31 per cent scored above American averages in verbal reasoning. She said: "That was quite impressive because they didn't have any preparation time. The Americans do a lot of practice tests. SATs could be a welcome addition to school assessments, particularly for disadvantaged students whose school grades don't generally reflect their ability."
But Dr Leeder stressed that the research had not considered SATs in terms of replacing Highers or A levels, but only for assessing applicants without traditional entry requirements. The project is part of wider access research funded by the Sutton Trust, and has won funding for another year.
Dr Leeder said more investigation was needed into alternative assessment methods for underprivileged pupils. She said there would have to be further comparative trials of SAT-style assessments and psychometric test models to see which was best at predicting university performance.
Tessa Stone, director of the Sutton Trust, said the results supported the national research on the SAT that it commissioned from the National Foundation for Educational Research. This identified 5 per cent of the student sample whose school results would not have won them a place at a leading British institution, but whose SAT score led them to be considered by a leading American university.
"Dundee's research findings reinforce the importance of developing a means of assessing academic potential in addition to achievement tests," Dr Stone said.